the revolutionary act of ash wednesday and lent

I have been reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the past week now. It was not intended to be my Lenten book, but it has become such. The first few chapters relate to this Christian season in several ways. I would call it a Liberation Theology text for the non-theological, since it speaks in non-bibical langauge in the same ways that the South American liberation theologians were using the Exodus story and the narrative of Jesus.

The first chapter speaks of a revolution, where the oppressed and the oppressors both are liberated. Paulo Freire writes “As oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized” (42). Freire sets out to have both oppressed and oppressor humanized. This means that a revolution must have the oppressed not be over the oppressors, but everyone come out as equals. Slavoj Zizek has spoken some on Haiti, using a post-colonial context, writing, “it was perhaps even more of an event than the French Revolution itself. It was the first time that an enslaved population rebelled not as a way of returning to their pre-colonial “roots”, but on behalf of universal principles of freedom and equality.” While the French revolution promoted equality for all people who were not slaves, it was the Haitian Revolution who made both slaves and free all under the banner of equality and freedom. It’s as if they took the words of Freire to heart 170 years earlier.

This brings me to a theo-political understanding of the imparting of ashes. 40 days before Easter Sunday, catholic Christians attend a service in which to re-member, both in embodying the church, but also a time for self-reflection, remembering our short comings. As an Episcopalian, we like to kneel for Eucharist and for ashes, and this time I knelt recognizing my faults, but also kneeling in solitary with the rest of the persons in church. We were at that moment all on an equal plain. We are all part of familia dei, Family of God. In other words, the politics of Ash Wednesday show us that if any political system should be prescribed that it should be one of anarchism. That we need no human leaders since we are all on this equal plain. Yet, the problem is that as U.S. citizens we live in a psycho-spiritual context where to feel secure that we must have an authority figure, e.g. President, patriarch, etc. in our lives to give us structure. In Zizekian/Lacian lingo, we are searching for the “subject-suppose-to-know.” We are looking for the one who knows all the answers so that we can elect them to office or believe that they know best and follow whatever they may say. Speaking of the 2008 financial crisis, Jacques Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller says in an interview

“The financial universe is an architecture made of fictions and its keystone is what Lacan called a “subject supposed to know”, to know why and how. Who plays this part? The concert of authorities, from where sometimes a voice is detached, Alan Greenspan, for example, in his time. The financial players base their behavior on this. The fictional and hyper-reflexive unit holds by the “belief” in the authorities, i.e. through the transference to the subject supposed to know. If this subject falters, there is a crisis, a falling apart of the foundations, which of course involves effects of panic. “

The presidential candidates want to be this kind of subject, knowing what is best for the financial and political realm. Yet if we are Christians who wear our “faith on our foreheads” recognizing our failings, how can we not help to see that there is no one who is “suppose to know” that it takes us a community of self-reflecting people who now more than ever need the dialectic and each other to create a more just world.


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